Monday, August 4, 2008

"So dark the con of man."

The Da Vinci Code | rel. 2006 | dir. Ron Howard

Like many, I've read Dan Brown's best-selling novel, The Da Vinci Code. As preposterous and ridiculous the puzzle pieces were, I admittedly enjoyed Brown's interesting but unconvincing and predictable mystery. The pieces were forcefully fit, but that didn't matter. The central mystery--the controversial theory--worked in the novel's context, but I don't believe a word of it. As a whole, the novel was solid entertainment and an acceptable work of fiction. When the film came out in 2006, it looked like a definite renter. It took me a few years to remember that the film version even existed and that I even had any intentions of seeing it at all.

The Da Vinci Code, on paper, seems like a suitable novel to adapt into a film. It has some suspense, some mystery, some adventure, and even some romance. National Treasure did a decent job with all those ingredients back in 2004. The problem was, Brown's The Da Vinci Code was a 496-paged bundle of explanations, flashbacks, history lectures, and long conversations regarding the central mystery. All those aspects works in literature and always had. In the hands of a good screenwriter and director, those aspects could have had a healthy translation onto film.

So I just finished watching Ron Howard's The Da Vinci Code. I've came to the conclusion that it has to be one of the most boring movies that I ever had the unpleasant experience of sitting through.

Howard is a reliable and versatile director who had several career highs, including an Oscar win for Best Director for 2001's A Beautiful Mind. He knows how to make his movies look good and appealing to both audiences and critics. But what went wrong here? My guess is that Howard and the film's screenwriter, Akiva Goldman, trusted in their source material too much. They probably had complete faith that the book would translate perfectly onto the screen.

Howard and Goldman had every right to believe that Brown's mystery adventure would easily make a fantastic film, but unfortunately, that was not the case. Everything takes some effort, especially a good adaptation. The magical purpose of film is to show more and tell less but somehow, Howard and Goldman forgot that point. In the film, whenever something new pops up, a character has to explain to the audience what the thing is. This creates a fiasco of a lot of talking and not a lot of showing. Nothing ever gets the chance to unfold itself, therefore, nothing builds up. Because of this, the film loses much of its potential for thrills.

Tom Hanks stars as Robert Langdon, an acclaimed writer and university professor in symbology has come to Paris as a guest lecturer. Langdon's a pretty smart and likable guy (mainly due to the fact that he's played by America's Favorite Actor), so when a curator at Paris's famed Louvre museum is murdered and leaves several clues behind at the crime scene, the authorities contact Langdon.

Langdon meets a young French cryptologist, Sophie Neveu (Audrey Tautou) at the museum who warns him that he is suspect in the murder case due to a cryptic message ("find Robert Langdon") left on the scene and they have have to get out of the Louvre immediately--at least after they throw his GPS tracking system out the window and solve some of those clues the curator left behind on the floor, the Mona Lisa, and everywhere else. Sophie also reveals that the murdered curator is her grandfather. In response, Langdon absorbs the information and I could almost see Hanks's actor's mechanic move about and thinks, "Thanks for the info!"

The man who murdered the curator is a hooded albino man by the name of Silas (Paul Bettany) who brutally whips himself for his sins. Silas works for a mysterious man called the Teacher and Bishop Manuel Aringarosa (Alfred Molina). Silas is a prime example of a character that is thoroughly compelling in the novel but works poorly on film. The flashback scenes that build his character so well in the book is all too brief and abrupt in the film--but does the film really have time for that kind of development? Probably not. But Silas is just a bore in the film and rarely seems malicious nor vulnerable.

As Langdon and Sophie make their escape with the Fleur-de-lis key in hand, a police officer, Bezu Fache (Jean Reno) pursues the two in a not-so-exciting chase sequence around the grim streets of Paris. After taking a breath or two, Langdon and Sophie reaches address inscribed on the Fleur-de-lis and finds a safety deposit box containing a cryptex. After making yet another near escape, the team seeks help from Langdon's friend, Leigh Teabing (Ian McKellan). Teabing just happens to be interested in the cryptex and believes it holds the clue to the Holy Grail. He shows a dull, explaination-ridden presentation using Da Vinci's famous painting, "The Last Supper" to inject some evidence into his theory: Mary Magdalene was the wife of Jesus Christ. They had a child together. McKellan seems to be thinking and imploring, "Audience, be wowed!"

The dull presentation morphs into some kind of erudition experience for the audience that proves itself totally unnecessary. It is just more fluff so the filmmakers could try their best not to offend. A boring back-and-forth between Teabing and Langdon regarding their knowledge about the Holy Grail, the Priory of Sion, and the Vatican takes place, complete with flashes of images that resemble ancient times just so they can give an entire history lesson to Sophie and the audience.

But what's up with the Priory of Sion? Why do they bother to keep this "secret" that poses a threat to Christianity for so long? What's in it for them? Then again, I'm yawning, I'm falling asleep--I really don't care anymore.

The first hour basically sets up the foundation for the rest of the film. The rest of the film is just a lot of running around, making escapes, and revelations. Oh yeah, and a lot more revealing and explaining goes on too. I shouldn't forget to mention those poorly-executed flashbacks either. Those flashbacks are usually heavily narrated, jittery, and almost unnecessary.

Never has a more talented cast been wasted as much as The Da Vinci Code ensemble. Everyone is staid and serious; not even a joke could be told without a concerned wrinkle. Their facial expressions are full of mock intensity and heavy breathing that seem to add little to the drama.

Hanks has always been a enthusiastic actor, but he is terrible as Robert Langdon. I don't think it is entirely Hanks's fault that his performance is anything less than superb, considering he is a miscast from the first frame of his appearance to the last. Someone like Russell Crowe could have done a better job with the Langdon character.

The fact that Hanks has absolutely no chemistry with his co-star, French actress, Audrey Tautou, is a massive disappointment. In the novel, Langdon and Sophie were gradually falling in love, but that is not apparent in the film, and probably for the better. Tautou struggles with her English, but she pulls through the film. Tautou is a beautiful woman and has enough charm to carry a mediocre movie like Amelie, but The Da Vinci Code doesn't allow her to show off any of her charms or likability. Tautou would enter a scene, say everything that must be said with a pout, and her presence slowly evaporates. In the film, Sophie is a boring character and the way she reacts to serious situations is just by being more serious doesn't give enough of an emotional or dramatic punch.

The supporting cast doesn't do the film any favors either. Bettany and McKellan seem to be suited for their roles, but they bring little to the film. Bettany doesn't have a lot of good material to work with so his character just kind of tears through the film like a benign villain. McKellan starts off by taking the material as seriously as Hanks and Tautou, but later on decides to joke around. McKellan's later attempt to make the film a little more brighter is simply too little, too late. Molina and Reno act like backdrop, contributing nothing that could ever serve as an impact.

Being able to film a thriller in Paris should be any American director's dream, but Howard doesn't take advantage of the opportunity. Instead, he paints a gloomy portrait of dark streets with sloppy close-up of car chases complete with blank character reaction shots. Even when he gets to film in a seemingly gorgeous church, Howard directs the scenes with such laziness and visual incompetence that it is saddening to witness. The scenes in London also lacks beauty. Everything results in a lot of chasing around but there is no adrenaline pumping at all. Unfortunately, not even Hans Zimmer's score, which sounds like the recycled bits from Batman Begins, adds anything to those cat-and-mouse chase scenes.

The film seems to assume that everyone in the audience has read the book, which makes the general feel of the film a tad incoherent. Goldman's script is a fine example of blatant storytelling convenience whose main goal is move the plot forward without developing the characters at all. At least Brown, as silly as his novel was, knew how to get his readers emotionally invested into the characters and because the reader cared about the characters, they cared about the mystery they were trying to solve as well. But it seems like Brown's tale is defunct on film and only the pages seem to function well.

The film has a big budget, but it has no substance or any entertainment value. In fact, watching all 2 hours and 25 minutes of this film is equivalent to exhausting yourself. If you want to see a movie with a lot of clues that fit nicely together, go rent National Treasure or National Treasure: Book of Secrets for a far more entertaining adventure. At least with those movies, you will find a cast that is smart enough to know that their film is logically doomed and doesn't bother to take the material seriously--not even for a second. The Da Vinci Code is simply a boring blockbuster that makes everyone involved look bad.

Rating: 4.5/10

12 comments:

  1. Yeah, it could've been done a hell of a lot better, but I still liked it. I did love Tautou and the score (Hans Zimmer 4 lyfe), though.

    But Hanks gave one of the most absolutely horrible and misplaced performances I've ever seen. Ew.

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  2. J.D., I still think Tautou and Zimmer could have done better. I don't know, I expected more from them.

    I agree, I love Hanks but his performance in DVC sucks. And what's up with that hair? If he wanted to enhance his performance by changing his hairstyle, it didn't work.

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  3. It's because he's NOT Robert Langdon. If that was the hairstyle the character was supposed to have, I could see it work on almost anyone else, probably because they'd make it seem like they actually cared about the movie.

    Why'd they have to cast him? :-\

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  4. Hanks was cast because he was good friends with Ron Howard. I think that's really the only reason he got the role because I doubt anyone read the book and thought, "Tom Hanks would be perfect for Robert Langdon if they made a film version!"

    But Howard could have cast Russell Crowe instead since they've worked together before. Apparently Crowe was seriously considered for the role. I could see Crowe playing Langdon wonderfully.

    I think they should have re-cast the role for Angels and Demons. (I haven't read the book, though.) Ah well, too late. They're already filming.

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  5. I'm gonna call this "nepotism" because it's a fun word to use.

    Crowe would've been a good Langdon, I think. At least better than Hanks, obviously.

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  6. I never have and never will get around to seeing this. Though I do hope to read the book sometime soon.

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  7. So naff. So, so naff.

    Good score though.

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  8. Good review Marcy. I havent seen this movie, but I do know that they're making a sequel to it that should be out by next year

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  9. - Shawn, the book is nothing but solid entertainment and is much, much better than the movie.

    - Emma, I can't think of a better word to describe this movie.

    - Thanks Farzan. They're filming Angels and Demons right now, which is actually a prequel to The Da Vinci Code. Even if the film does get relatively good reviews, I can't imagine myself watching Tom Hanks trying to play Robert Langdon again.

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  10. I know I'm gonna see A&D opening day, just because I'm like that. :-\

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  11. the book started well, but deteriorated as they went round the same circle too many times, and thoroughly wore out the premise, and the reader. if you want to read a good book about all that medieval religious craziness, read 'the name of the rose' by umberto eco. it was made into a movie that stars sean connery and often finds it's way to tv. i'm sure brown read this and got a lot of his ideas from it. he should have kept most of them to himself.

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